My guidebook said that to catch a bus from Bali to Java, I needed to go to the bus stop in Denpasar so, after dropping my brother off at the airport, I caught a taxi to Denpasar. As with any bus station in Indonesia, as soon as I arrived at the entrance to the compound, people surrounded me asking where I wanted to go and touting their respective buses. While this experience is never much fun, I’ve learned to roll with it. “Over there,” I started saying.
They didn’t take the non-committal answer for long, so I quickly switched to saying that I wanted to get into the actual bus terminal. No one was much interested in that, and questions quickly turned into offers for buses to Surabaya.
“No,” I said. “I want to go to Malang.”
This, it turned out, was the wrong answer, as I was rapidly surrounded by three men offering a specific bus and claiming it was going to Malang.
I pointed. “But why does the sign say Denpasar-Surabaya?”
They assured me that the bus went to Malang.
At this point, I made a not-so-good decision. I decided to get on the bus. Now, I was fairly certain that the bus was indeed going to Surabaya, but two other things factored in: one, I wanted to go to Surabaya at some point so ending up there wouldn’t be the worst thing ever; and two, I had a friend who I wanted to meet in Malang, so I needed to get there as soon as possible. The bus was leaving right away. Granted, going to Surabaya was not the same thing as going to Malang, but I figured it was at least Java.
The bus cost about $15. My guidebook claimed I could get it for $12, but I didn’t feel like putting in the effort to bargain. Perhaps I should have, but instead I just got on the bus.
My assigned seat ended up being next to some man, so my first move was to put on headphones. They weren’t actually connected to anything, but I thought their presence would fend off conversation. I was wrong.
He asked me where I was going, informed me that everyone else on the bus was going to Surabaya, informed me that they’d been waiting to leave since 9 that morning, and asked where I was from.
I told him. Then I put my headphones back in.
I spent the ride from Denpasar to Gilimanuk attempting to sleep. Since the headphones hadn’t worked too well, I figured sleep was my only line of defense left. Also, moving vehicles tend to put me to sleep.
We got to the ferry terminal around the time when I started thinking about eating dinner. As with any hub of public transportation in Indonesia, there were people set up selling food—snacks, mainly; instant noodles; some rices dishes. I was, however, too scared to get off the bus. No one had given any instructions and I was pretty afraid of getting left behind.
I could have gotten off when we actually drove onto the ferry, but I didn’t understand what was going on until too late. At this point, we were boxed in on three sides by other vehicles. The door couldn’t open wide enough to let people out. Now I know what it means when the driver starts yelling, “Yang mau turun!”
Night fell as we made our slow way across the water to Java. Once we’d driven off the ferry, I looked out the window and realized that the volcano I’d assumed was in Bali was actually in Java. So it’s true. You can see Java from Bali.
We drove through the night while I chatted a little with the man next to me. He asked some questions about the US and I decided he was all right. He never asked for my phone number, which is worth several points in my book. Maybe I’ve lowered my standards.
At 11 o’clock, I woke up to the bus driver yelling that it was time to eat dinner. We piled out of the bus and filed into a large, deserted restaurant. There was a small band in one corner featuring a female lead singer that, upon seeing us, began playing.
Most of us went immediately to the bathrooms. Earlier, there had been some sort of chaos concerning the bathroom on the bus. I hadn’t understood what was said but I’d decided right then that it was better to just avoid the situation completely.
Once we’d finished with the bathroom, we filed through a buffet, getting rice, some tempeh, an egg, some vegetables. It was not a very exciting buffet and I only got one glass of tea. Then again, I was somewhat surprised that we got fed at all, so I couldn’t really complain.
I ate by myself. A couple sat at the other end of my table, eating together but not really talking. I finished before them and got up to wait outside. Eventually, everyone else had come outside too and we all piled back on the bus.
I slept for the rest of the journey. At some point, a man came around asking where everyone was going and writing it down. As it turned out, there were a couple other people also going to Malang. I felt a little less stupid.
We got into Surabaya at 2 AM. I didn’t know where we were; the bus terminal didn’t look very impressive, as I assumed the bus terminal in Indonesia’s second-largest city would look. The man next to me, however, informed me that we were in Surabaya and suggested that I go look for a bus to Malang. He flagged down the driver, or perhaps the man who’d come around asking where everyone was trying to go and ushered me into their care.
At this point, I was too groggy to really care where I was or where I was going. I considered just staying in Surabaya, except that it was two in the morning so I really had nowhere to go. With this in mind, I followed the bus driver to a new bus, got on, set my bag down next to me, put my head on top of it, and immediately fell asleep.
They woke me up again around 3 AM, saying that I had to move over so that someone could sit next to me. I sighed and moved over, rearranging my duffel bag so that it was on my lap. I rested my head against the window and closed my eyes again. If it had been daytime, the bus warmed by the heat of the sun, I would probably have been annoyed by all the people crushed in around me and by the lack of air conditioning. At night, I didn’t care. I fell asleep again.
And then they woke me up again, asking me to pay for the bus ride. I considered arguing with them—it had sounded like my bus driver had made some sort of deal with this bus driver so that I wouldn’t have to pay—but the cost was only a dollar more. I didn’t care enough to argue.
The bus pulled into the terminal in Malang around 5 AM. I’d woken up before then and started scanning signs, wanting to make sure that I hadn’t missed my stop. The name for the terminal looked like the name that my friend had texted me earlier that night, so I got off the bus, shook my head at ojek offers, and sat down on a bench to text my friend.
When I looked back up, I noticed the sign hanging on the terminal. It listed the cities Surabaya, Malang, and Tulungagung. Ambiguous, I thought. Does that mean that buses to those cities leave from here or that the bus line goes through those cities?
I didn’t really care. I put my head back down on my bag and slept for another hour.